When I was asked what I have learned from teaching during this pandemic, I have to admit that a bunch of ideas flooded my mind, yet it was hard to have a name for these, to adequately describe them.
It seemed a blur, in a way, as if I had “magically” adapted to establishing a new rapport with students. After thinking about this for some time, I realized that, although I have learned so much and have made adjustments, I am still, in fact, learning each day.
Here then, are the five factors that force me to reevaluate my purpose as an instructor:
Leniency (while also establishing accountability): I have always been accused of being too lenient, yet this trait has been rather useful during COVID. My philosophy has been to give students a “second chance,” so I like to have amnesty periods, where a missed assignment can be made up. I find that now, as many students are new to the online module, this is even more important. It allows them not to lose hope. There is always a chance to submit a missed assignment.
However, the responsibility of doing one’s best to keep up with deadlines is also stressed. There is room for error, but students also feel like the grade they earned is one for which they have worked very hard.
How to keep humor alive: This has been a challenge, indeed. My students can attest to my continual humor, which makes learning some topics a bit easier. However, not being in the class, and not being mandated to have Zoom sessions, means I can’t tell jokes. When I write something humorous, I don’t see students laughing. Those who join my voluntary Zoom meetings get a glimpse of this, as, for example, when they ask me how long an essay has to be, and I respond,“70 pages.” Sometimes, I have students apologizing for too many emails, wanting to know if it is all right to ask another question, and I start off the email with “For a small fee…” It may not be as effective as it is in the classroom, but I notice is still puts them at ease. Even my Zoom recordings of lessons have a joke or two to break the monotony, and it is awesome when I receive an email from a student with, “I watched your Zoom…LOL.”
Being in control: In no way does this mean that I have become authoritarian. In fact, I have had to learn to keep my own emotions under control. For example, we just had a discussion board called “Mid-semester Blues,” where students were asked to share their feelings about challenges, on a personal or professional level, during the pandemic. As always, the discussion boards allow the closest interaction possible among classmates in a remote setting, and everyone was willing to describe frustrations of feeling isolated, worries over ill family members, or fears about our nation “hanging by a thread.”
I also receive this communication in numerous emails, and, sadly some of those have included loss of jobs or the death of loved ones. I am sympathetic to each person, but I noticed, at first, that I was having a difficult time responding, since I also felt helpless, afraid, and depressed. However, this is where controlling these fears comes into play. I may be experiencing the same level of anxiety as they are, but I respond in a positive way, encouraging them not to give up, reminding them of what a great job they are doing. “This, too, shall pass,” may be cliché, but it is a necessary reminder, as well.
Knowing my resources: It is fortunate that Berkeley had faculty and staff learn Canvas when we made the transition a few years ago, and I am grateful for the long hours I spent trying to master this. On site, Canvas was used to post grades and announcements, reinforcing what I said in class. Nothing can take the place of person-to-person interaction, and I miss discussing issues with my classes during office hours, where I could address each individual’s concerns. Now, I have to do this remotely. While I was online for many hours after class, I have become accustomed to doing so even more in order to answer questions about grades or assignments.
In addition, since so many individuals are becoming increasingly distressed, professors have the advantage of contacting personal counselors or academic advisors, who can assist students and help them overcome barriers to their success.
Acknowledging strengths: My motto for students during these difficult times is, “You are stronger than you know.” This does not mean I minimize what they are feeling, but I remind them that while the new normal does not seem normal at all, they are surviving—and they will succeed! It’s OK to feel panicked and scared. They are courageous and resilient, and they have proved this to themselves over and over. We also write about history, about past pandemics, about the ingenuity of the medical community. Our ancestors have survived, as will we. I ask them to focus on the topics they write about: husbands, wives, children, parents, religion–anyone and anything that inspires them. Lastly, I tell them that, when they are older, they will have a tremendous tale to tell their children and grandchildren, the story of their sacrifices, of their tenacity, of the resilience of the human spirit!
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